Certificates of Completion By Erin Moore

The pilgrims wore matching sunshine yellow shirts with the black logo indicating their walk to Fátima.  It took them five days from Lisbon; they were blistered and content. It was May 13th, the date of Mary’s first apparition to the three shepherd children in Portugal.  I naively asked, “Will you get a certificate?” They smirked and laughed. “No. It is in my heart,” a grizzled pilgrim said, pointing to his heart. I was clearly the crazy American tourist.

Fátima pilgrim on May 13, 2019

Fátima pilgrim on May 13, 2019

In Fátima, the tourist office on the sacred plaza by the Basilicas only offers a Camino stamp. It was my first; it depicted Mary floating on a cloud, three children kneeling at her feet with the scallop shell below and the words Camino de Santiago framing the image. In the days to come I would collect stamps along the Camino. The Catholic Church requires two per day for the last 100 kilometers  (for hikers) in order to obtain a certificate of completion in Santiago de Compostela  in Spain.  This tradition stems from the Middle Ages when pilgrims needed the permission from their pastors, spouses, and employers to set out on the pilgrimage. The pilgrim brought permission letters with them and returned with proof of completion: badges both natural or fabricated – the scallop shell served as proof from Santiago. Since the 1980s the Catholic Church again requires proofs of travel in order to validate the pilgrimage.  The stamps serve as that proof.

A pilgrim passport with stamps from along the Way

A pilgrim passport with stamps from along the Way


Some pilgrims take the stamps seriously.  A German-Vietnamese pilgrim went from hostels to cafés, post offices, police stations and churches gathering many per town. Pilgrims collect stamps like a birder has a life list or climbers are referred to as “peak baggers.” I met a pilgrim walking back from the Herbón monastery and her only comment was, “I got the stamp.”  In the monastery at Armenteira one nun carefully explained their stamp to me with pride. “A monk – there used to be monks living here- went to the garden to pray to God.  See here is a little bird in the tree (she points to the elaborate stamp). He stayed 300 years and when he returned to the monastery none of the monks knew him.”  She concluded with an explanation, “When you are in communion with God  … (there is no sense of time).” The stamp grew in meaning for me.  One morning at the Evangelical homestay, Debbie explained that the previous year she did not have a stamp.  She would draw in the pilgrim’s Camino passport. Then as a surprise one pilgrim got her drawing made into a stamp back home for her. She used this now.

When the pilgrim passport is filled with colorful shapes – sometimes sideways, smeared, overlapping or sweat soaked, it is presented for inspection to the Roman Catholic Church office in Santiago. The Church will only issue the Compostela to those who have the requisite number of stamps and who did their pilgrimage on foot, horseback or on bicycle.  This certificate is a printed, decorative “medieval” manuscript in Latin with your name, translated into Latin, written with a calligrapher’s flourish in the center. Once again the Church has taken over the authority to confirm who is a “real” pilgrim.

The author with her daughter Marika showing off the Compostelas in 2015.

The author with her daughter Marika showing off the Compostelas in 2015.


The lure of formal documents rewarding the pilgrim has begun to infect the Camino de Santiago with a consumerist air. Galician certificates multiply. The Spanish offer certificates for completing half of the French route (San Jean to Burgos?), for walking into Padrón and another for going to the Herbón monastery nearby,

Herbón monastery certificate. They leave it to the pilgrims to fill in their own names.

Herbón monastery certificate. They leave it to the pilgrims to fill in their own names.for walking from Santiago to Finesterre/Fisterra on the coast, another for walking into Muxia. The more certificates that are issued the less they seem to have value.  Maybe the Fátima pilgrims were right.  We should confirm the pilgrimage in our hearts rather than on paper.

for walking from Santiago to Finesterre/Fisterra

Fisterra certificate

Fisterra certificate

on the coast, another for walking into Muxia. The more certificates that are issued the less they seem to have value.  Maybe the Fátima pilgrims were right.  We should confirm the pilgrimage in our hearts rather than on paper.

Smells of the Portuguese Camino by Erin Moore

My USC students complain that they don’t speak Portuguese; they can’t interview pilgrims along the way.  “Ah, but there are many ways to do anthropological fieldwork,” I retort. The senses give insight to the new world around us in ways that are not recorded with photographs.

Not at this cafe

Cafés sometimes have notices about feet aromas.


I sit down to rest my feet and write the notes that have been composing themselves all morning as I walked. I remove my shoes. The smell of hot boots and sweaty socks drift up to inspire my growing fascinations with the smells on the Camino.

Candles for offerings to the Virgin

Candles for offerings to the Virgin

  1. I will begin in Fatima, May 13th, the day Portuguese pilgrims commemorate the Virgin Mary’s first appearance to the shepherd children. Sitting in the Chapel of the Apparition for the English mass our lungs fill with the tangible black smoke and wax from the offerings.  Pilgrims hurl 6-foot long candles or wax images of body parts into the flames in supplication or thanksgiving.

    Wax body parts.

    Wax body parts.

  2. Jasmine blooms in the doorway of our small hotel in Fatima, sweet and welcoming.
  3. Across from Porto, we dine on the banks of the Douro River. The outside café is crowded and the smoke from a nearby patron finds its way to my annoyed nose.
  4. We take the train outside Porto before beginning our walk. Liquid manure drips from cows’ rear ends and trucks spray more on the adjacent fields. We are one with the cows as we breathe their essence/excreta. The vegans in the group moan.

    Cows on the Camino. A pilgrim pushes her 2 year old along the path.

    Cows on the Camino. A pilgrim pushes her 2 year old over the cobbles.

  5. In our first hostel at Rates, Portugal, we wait an hour to check in with the boisterous hospitaleros. Pilgrims are already in the kitchen sautéeing garlic, onions and chicken – it stops us all in our tracks.  We are “hangry,” as the students like to say.
  6. Hiking, I smell burning trash and leaves from a field.
  7. In Barcelos I walk into a shop advertising fresh chocolates, coffee and pastries. My nose already knows these scents; at the door something is not right. I stop.  There is a pungent, gamey, rancid smell — butchers in the back were already at work.
  8. On a Sunday morning there are wedding lilies decorating a church from the day before. The scent lingers. Rice and rose pedals are still visible crushed into the cracks of the cobblestones out front.
  9. In the back bedroom at Fernanda’s albergue it smells musty and moldy like some of the old Gothic chapels.
  10. The smell of fresh rain on hot pavement and hiking through the pine and Eucalyptus forests in Galicia.trees


I meditated on smells as I walked. Today those smells transport me back.

Reflections on My Camino: A Series of Poems, By Joanne Lee

The Walk

Step by step we walk

Stop, sit down, and talk

Everyone at their own pace

I’ve learned that it’s not a race

As easy as the flight of a bird

Simplicity that’s never before occurred

With peace, with trees, with friends

In my heart I know it’ll never end



Return to Home

A family history of broken ties and loose ends

Screaming and shouting, crying then sighing

I fled from the house that never felt like a home to me

But being outside repaired the damage once inside of me

Hurting became healing and troubling became treating

As I’m led to green pastures and beside still waters,

Like a child, I am restored in awe and wonder

All this talk of nurture versus nature, but in the end, what does it matter?

A lineage more deeply rooted than the blood in my veins

I call her Mother Nature, I call him Father Creator

They’re calling me back,

So I return to home


An Unspoken Understanding

There was an unspoken understanding between the two of us

Between that little girl and me

She had her bright pink backpack on, full of number two pencils and notebooks for school

I had mine on, too, full of life’s necessities from clothes to shampoo

We couldn’t be headed off to more different places,

But there was an unspoken understanding between the two of us


We had the same straight black hair,

The odd ones out among the other choices: blond and brown

Same eyes,

Four dark shades in a sea of blue and green

We’re not like the others

So there was an unspoken understanding between the two of us


Her eyes,

Those eyes that resembled mine

For a moment so big, so startled, like she’d committed a crime

Stared so directly and straight into mine


Somehow seeing another that’s unlike the others made my solitary existence oh so clearer

This younger reflection of me exposed so much

About how really truly different I was

But more frighteningly, how dangerously blind to it I can be

For my differences, I believe, bring out the best in me


Camino Calls

unnamed-2The silky shimmer of sea as it calls along the shore

The freedom of forestry and farm I’ve never found before

The rhythmic beating as sole meets soil

The body-shaking snores that brings us so much toil

The crackling cobblestones that catch beneath my feet

The scraping saltiness of sweat meets water between my teeth

The pulpy pitter-patter of my fingers post-orange peeling

For some reason, these Camino calls just give me a fantastic feeling

Why Do Pilgrims Walk, Then and Now by Andre Mershad

Shell on MayaWith the Camino de Santiago being rooted in Catholicism, one would most likely assume that the main reason for walking is religious or spiritual. After all, pilgrims walk hundreds of miles to arrive at the place where Saint James’ bones are supposedly residing in a silver coffin. When walking a pilgrimage in medieval times, you may have found many pilgrims walking to repent for their sins. But, also in medieval times displayed a large flux of reasons people would walk. Sometimes, those had no option. If a crime was committed, a viable sentence would be to send the guilty on a trek. This could be seen as a form of punishment, or a second chance to connect with God and right your wrongs. In contrast, one may have walked a Pilgrimage to escape from the plague, or conquer famine. A quote from Pilgrimage in Medieval Culture recites “Santiago de Compostela became above all a goal of the devout and the voluntarily and involuntarily penitent rather than a healing shrine.”


Today, pilgrims still walk for an amalgamation of motives, but these reasons have evolved. According to Caminoways.com, about 17% walk for exercise, 15% for adventure, 14% for reading of peace, solitude and relaxation, and 12% for social reasons. Religion is now the seventh most popular reason, with 9.6% in this category. Based on my experience on the Camino, these statistics make sense. A large majority of participants walk the Camino to stay young and fit. I met a 75 year old man who had walked routes to Santiago at least a dozen times, and he swears it keeps his body and mind in check. Because he feels so healthy walking so much, he also rewards himself with beer and cigarettes, only while on the Camino. I also met many people walking the Camino solely for adventure, and to figure out things about themselves that they had not yet unveiled. A quote I received from a US army veteran was “I needed a break from the United States.” I also asked a Polish veteran, who was in his 70’s,”why are you walking?” And he responded,”Why does a climber climb Mount Everest?” A 20 year old German-American I met said ” I walked the Camino to find answers… I didn’t find those answers, but I found the questions I wanted to ask.” Only one pilgrim crossed my path who was walking solely for religious reasons. She was Mormon, a college student, and walked with her two parents. She described to me that through being amidst nature, it brought her closer to God. When I decided to walk barefoot the last day into Santiago, I observed that most recognized me as part of this 9%; walking for God, or to repent which was the more common theme in medieval times.Pilgrim

The difference between then, and now is that pilgrims now seem like they are on equal plane. In the past, the reason for walking mattered, and some communities of people, like women were inhibited from experiencing pilgrimage. Although a hierarchy exists today based on miles walked, or if staying in hotels or albergues, it is far different from the hierarchy that existed in Medieval times that depended on class, and mainly your reason for walking.

Author showing feet after a penitant walk barefoot in to santiago

Author showing feet after a penitent walk barefoot in to Santiago

Liminality in Threes by Victoria Friend

AuthorLiminality, as first defined by anthropologist Victor Turner, is a process of being in-between. Having left a previously held structure, the person then exists in an area of ambiguity until their rite of passage, journey, or pilgrimage is complete. Turner would argue that most pilgrims exist in that liminal space. It is how we as a class have existed for the length of our journey – walking for two weeks from place to place, never quite finding structure or finality. However, contrary to Turner’s definition, many pilgrims do not always find themselves in this liminal space for the extent of their pilgrimage. Many have walked the Camino multiple times, incorporating it repeatedly into their lives. I met a man from Colorado who was on his fifth Camino – since he’s retired this has become his yearly routine. Even more extreme is the case of a Dominican monk from Poland, who claims to have gone on the Camino six different times with different groups of students. While on the pilgrimage he provides them with a daily mass, leadership, and guidance. For these people, the pilgrimage has become a routine, something they do time and time again, year after year. I would argue that these people still exist in liminality – after all, they are on the move without a structured sense of here or there. But the Camino has also become a type of structure for them, putting them at an interesting in-between. From these pilgrims, it would be simple to assume that pilgrimage necessitates some degree of liminality; however, in certain cases it can provide a deep and permanent structure. Such is the case with Rita, an Irishwoman who runs a pilgrimage house with her husband Matthew. For Rita, her pilgrimage started much earlier than the Camino – leaving her job and life behind at twenty-one to travel to Amsterdam and escape her current structure. In Amsterdam, she met a man who invited her into the church community located there, where she eventually found structure and a return to her faith in God. Now, she runs a pilgrim hostel in which she gifts a part of her experience unto others, making a safe, clean place for many pilgrims to relax, rest their aching feet, and spend the night. Pilgrimage for her is no longer a liminal space per Turner’s definition – there is no real in-between and she has long since completed any specific rite of passage. The Camino has instead become a structure on which she has built the foundation of her life. Thus, as the pilgrim saying goes, “The Camino provides”. A freedom and ambiguity for first time walkers, a consistent adventure for returning pilgrims, and even a sense of permanent community.Donation based stay

Curing and Preventative Healing along the Camino by Briana Morris

The mind has tremendous power over the body. The difference between healing and curing may not be evident to most, but on the Camino we see examples of both. I personally did not encounter pilgrims who sought either healing or curing specifically but a Mecca in Lisbon paid homage to biomedicine and preventative curing can be seen amongst the older population. This is a unique way to consider biomedicine and also the mental aspects of dis-ease.

The largest age demographic of pilgrims on the central Portuguese route were individuals in their mid sixties or higher. A common theme was the desire to have a physical challenge before reaching a particular age. A German woman– now reaching retirement– went on her first Camino after seeing her parents age poorly. She was unsure what condition she would be in, and wanted to live without regret or wonder. She had the mental desire to do the Camino, and since has done multiple routes. She was willing to go through the physical challenges and had the mental drive to do so. While we cannot say that this kept her in top physical condition, her mental state can be seen as a factor in defying age stereotypes and barriers.

While slightly different from our class discussion on curing versus healing this may be looked at as preventative healing. As with the Commonweal (Michael Warner), walking was used as a method of meditation and also to help cancer patients in their healing process the mental aspects of biomedical illness. In the city of Lisbon, we can also see signs of biomedical curing and it’s overlap with healing. A large stone pillar surrounded by hundreds of photos sat near a park and medical science building in Lisbon. The photos were from contemporary times (20th century) but tombstones of the same amount were collected as well. A plaque with the name “Dr. Sousa Martins” referenced the man for whom it was built. After compiling research, I came to find that Dr. Martins was a physician in the 19th century whose work focused on treating poor tuberculosis patients. Without him, these patients would have otherwise been left to die.

Dr. Martin’s memorial has gone from historical site to a healing mecca. While he is no longer alive, his past and history within the Lisbon community greatly impact those with strong faith. He is now seen as a saint and people in need of healing come to the memorial and pray for such. His life served biomedical purposes, but his spirit after passing became a symbol– it gives his believers the power to heal mentally and therefore physically.

While curing is not a major motivation for pilgrims to go on the Camino today, healing is still important factor to consider. The older pilgrim population in part walks to push their physical capabilities, while Dr. Martins’s patients came to him to return to healthy physical states– the extraordinary verses basic wellbeing. Faith in extraordinary healing is also the main goal of those who visit Dr. Martins’s monument today. The mind-body connection is powerful as we saw in class. The motivation and dedication that pilgrims have to complete the Camino to the best of their abilities affects the body in a powerful way.

Listening as Healing by Daphne Armstrong

“And why are you walking? “I asked a 40-something woman, with toned calves, dressed in all Lululemon. “I have 29 days before my chemo starts. Thought I’d make the most of it…you know?” She trailed off. 

Kendra was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer a few weeks ago. As a personal trainer, physical health is a huge part of her life. Though the survival rate for her diagnosis is fairly high, she told me, “this is the first time I have really questioned my own mortality. I’ve had to sit down and plan what will happen to my kids if…the worst happens.” And, as a single mother, this worry is a top priority. 

My experience with my mom‘s breast cancer equipped me with the confidence to ask more questions. I told Kendra about our class, citing Michael Lerner’s healing and Commonweal program. I explained that “Americans are accustomed to end-oriented goals. You do this, this happens. We think recovery is something medically fixed.” But Lerner sets of other conditions for recovery from life-threatening illnesses at Commonweal, with physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual healing. 

In a way, Lerner’s program is rather similar to the Camino. Lerner has three programs. 1. Stress reduction, involving meditation and stretching exercises. The Camino can involve lots of meditation — walking or seated. 2. Health promotion. Walking, getting lots of fresh air and water, is good for the health. 3. Group support. On the Camino there is an unspoken agreement that you can bare your soul to a complete stranger with no judgments. This allows for vulnerability and a deep relationship. Kendra told me her fears for her children, her fear of feeling physically weak, and fear of being powerless, knowing full well there was nothing I could do to help, but listen. Kendra agreed that “illness is the western form of meditation.” She said she had “never slowed down to think about these things. Now she has no choice but to.

Additionally, Commonweal and the Camino both offer a sense of separation from the self. As Lerner explains, “you’ve put the feeling out there in a safe and supportive context and now you can look at it. The experience of the feeling begins to turn and you are able to step back from it and experience that you have a self separate from this terror or anxiety.” It is important that the Camino is so different then one’s typical structure so that they are able to separate the experience and isolate the feeling to examine.

I witnessed this sort of healing with Maria, a Spanish woman in her early 30s. We exchanged pleasantries in Spanish, then she continue talking rapidly and I said, “Lo ciento, no entiendo.” This didn’t phase her and for the next 20 minutes she spoke passionately in Spanish. I threw in some positive, vague affirmations — earnest headnods and mmhmms. When she finished speaking, she looked me in the eye and gave me a hug before rejoining her group at a cafe in front of us. I guess she just needed to get something off her chest and I was glad I could be the safe listener to relieve it. The Camino, like Lerner’s Commonweal, provides a unique environment for healing, much different than mainstream medicine.

Intentions: Then & Now by Emily Petrucci

The Camino de Santiago a historically Christian pilgrimage that ends at the crypt of Saint James, an apostle of Jesus. People began embarking on pilgrimage in order to see his relics (e.g. bones, possessions), and soon the Catholic Church began granting indulgences for the pilgrimage as it was a form of penance. In other words, the suffering of pilgrimage served as punishment, and hence forgiveness, for their past and possibly even future sins. In this way, the Camino was often initiated out of devotion and likely also fear. Others walked in pursuit of miracles—begging Saint James and the Virgin Mary for healing, fertility, and resurrection of loved ones. Others were escaping, capitalizing on pilgrims’ needs, or forced to go. Notably, the Catholic Church only considered those who walked out of devotion true pilgrims and created a certification system to verify this status.download-1


At present, it seems like devotion to religion and the search for miracles play much less of a role in why people walk. So why do people walk? I started to get an idea of this as I met visitors and residents of Lisbon and Porto. A Belgian girl about my age in Lisbon said she has not done the Camino yet, but based on her friend’s experience, she insisted we would have a transformative experience. Similarly, the owners of a Vegan restaurant, all in their late twenties, said they have considered doing the Camino and have heard it is “incredibly spiritual and life-changing,” but have not yet committed to doing it; they seemed to be reassured in their desires when they met us, on the eve of our departure. As I talked to pilgrims along the route, many cited friends who did the Camino before them as part of the reason they embarked on this journey themselves. Undoubtedly, the promise of transformation lures people to the Camino.


Other pilgrims were not seeking transformation, but rather distance from the structure of life. One Spanish man in his forties explained, “Work does not fulfill me. It is not my passion. I work to make money and support myself, but spending time with my children and taking time to walk—that fulfills me.” A Vietnamese German woman about the same age said something similar: The Camino is opposite of everything I like in my normal life, and although that is uncomfortable, it is providing much needed distance.” Others walk to prove to themselves that they could. Several women in their sixties made very similar remarks: they’ve known about the Camino for a while, were always interested in doing it, and wanted to do it while they were still able.

St. James' crypt in the Cathedral in Santiago

St. James’ crypt in the Cathedral in Santiago

One of these women was from New Zealand, and we discussed the religious history of the Camino after stopping in a Chapel to rest. I asked her if she thought the Camino was still religious and she scoffed a little; everyone she had met was walking for personal reasons. Although suffering is still apart of the transformative process many people seek, the average modern pilgrim is not walking for penance or miracles. The relics are still viewed by pilgrims and tourists in the cathedral and churches along the way, but no one I talked to was walking to see them. Thus, although the religious roots of the pilgrimage are still visible along the way, the average pilgrim’s journey is not rooted in religion.

Found in Translation by Emily Petrucci

Due to the coming together of many nationalities in the pursuit of spirituality, healing, and adventure, the Camino de Santiago is considered a multicultural experience by the Council of Europe and Catholic Church. This has not been the case historically, however. Since pilgrims would walk to Santiago de Compostela from their doorsteps, there was representation from all over Europe, but nationalities mostly kept to their own cultural group. This may be partly due to difficulties communicating between languages. On the modern day Camino, language barriers still exist, but many pilgrims know English, even if it’s not their first language. When this isn’t the case, communicating with someone who does not speak the same language can be awkward and frustrating, but translation apps make socializing possible.


One day I walked with a woman from Austria for about 8 miles. She could speak some English but we had trouble communicating several times. When one of us couldn’t understand the other, first, we’d repeat the statement slower; then, if that was unsuccessful, we’d use hand motions and related words to help explain; finally, we’d either pull out Google Translate to elucidate or just shrug, giggle, and give up if it wasn’t worth the trouble. A similar process arose while trying to communicate with a German woman in my hostel room. She spoke almost no English, so she would speak in German, use hand motions, and single English words to try to communicate. We couldn’t have a long conversation, but I could understand a few statements: she wanted to share her Magnesium tablets, her husband had died, and she has 26 grandchildren. I was hesitant to eat the Magnesium because there was a lack of trust associated with not being able to understand her or her intentions. I didn’t eat it until she used some English words and gestures to insist “yes, yes” while putting her hand to her mouth saying, “Good. Vitamins. Magnesium,” and even then I felt a little uneasy. For the other statements, I needed Google Translate to understand key words like “died” or “grandchildren,” but somehow—before she used her phone—I knew she was talking about her family. Although our conversation was limited, it is remarkable that we were able to share our experiences and establish a friendly relationship without knowing each other’s languages.


There are stories of deep connections forming between people with large language barriers on the Camino. An Irishman told me a story he had heard from a man he met on his first Camino. The man was walking for his deceased granddaughter and wore a shirt with her face on it in her memory. Once, he was walking alone in a forest when a stranger approached him and asked about his shirt. The man told the entire story a way that he was never able to tell it to anyone before and came to tears. He said that even though they didn’t know each other’s languages, they understood each other; it was a Camino miracle to him.


So although language barriers inhibit connection between nationalities in some ways, the shared experience of pilgrimage and the potent spiritual environment on the Camino can often transcend these boundaries. Whether this occurs with the help of a smartphone or not, it is clear that communication between different languages is possible and present on the Camino.

A Sunday Lunch in Rural Portugal. May 19: Barcelos to Ponte de Lima, 12:45 PM by Daphne Armstrong

To my left, vineyards spread endlessly to the horizon, interrupted only by patches of yellow wildflowers. To my right, a row of weathered, rural Portuguese homes line the empty cobblestone road.


I stop in my tracks at the sound of laughter and a bouncing ball carried from the backyard of one of these homes. I peak into a gap in the fence, spying a young boy kicking a basketball against a brick wall and an older woman stretching a cotton shirt over a clothesline. She has short gray hair, a red checkered apron, smile wrinkles, and blue glasses covering her crows feet.IMG_4389


I smile and keep walking, glancing back over my shoulder at the sweet scene. The older woman catches my eye and asks, “agua?” She reaches for my water bottle and leads me into a kitchen with a table set for 12. On the TV, a live stream mass at Fatima plays. I show her pictures of our classmates at Fatima and the candlelight procession. She squints at my phone and tears up. I notice the cross dangling beneath her collarbone.


Her name is Ana. Her husband, Manuel. That is the most we could communicate via language. Manuel gives me a hug and a kiss on both cheeks that translates to “Welcome. I am happy you are here.”


The source of the bouncing noise is Ze, a 12-year-old boy with a shy grin revealing electric-blue braces. He takes English at school, but was too self-conscious at first to converse, a feeling I empathize with. He holds up a cracked iPhone with Google translate displaying, “Come eat with us?”


Every Sunday, the whole family gathers at the grandparents for a traditional Portuguese lunch. Cecilia and Paul arrive, Ze’s other set of grandparents. Shortly after come Sophia and John, Ze’s aunt and uncle, with baby Leonetta. John is an electrical engineer and Sophia is an orthodontist. She did Ze’s braces. They speak English and translate for me. Ze’s mom and dad join us downstairs with his three-year-old brother, Raul. The age range was 2 to 87.


Cecilia, the paternal grandmother, chases down Ze and Raul forcing their little arms into jackets to despite their protests that it is hot.  Sofia calls us in for lunch and prayer. For the first course, we consume a yellow octopus dish that Manuel caught in Lisbon. Manuel showed me a photo of himself grinning proudly with the lifeless octopus. Next we devoured a hearty rice, potato, meat stew, followed by a tray of pudin, with glittering crystallized sugar. We drink wine that their neighbors made on their vineyard, followed by coffee and port.


The meal was prepared entirely by the women. They set the table, cooked, and systematically served each dish, barely off of their feet long enough to enjoy the meal before they were collecting dishes to wash.


This family deeply values tradition, religion, and community. It was such a warm and welcoming environment. I am envious that they gather every Sunday. In my family, such an occasion is reserved for holidays such as Thanksgiving or Christmas. I wish I could bring Ze home with me and give him a taste of an afternoon in Los Angeles.